Posts tagged with "Churches":

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FXCollaborative’s UWS Children’s Museum conversion sparks preservation fears

A year-and-a-half after the news broke that FXCollaborative would be converting Manhattan’s derelict First Church of Christ Scientist on West 96th Street into the new home of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM), the project has gone before the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to mixed reviews. The Beaux-Arts-reminiscent church was originally completed in 1903 by Carrère & Hastings, and befitting its pedigree, was landmarked by the city in 1974. However, due to the rapid decline of Christian Science, the building was sold to Crenshaw Christian Church in 2004, then again to a residential developer in 2014. The building was decommissioned as the First Church of Christ Scientist when the original congregation left and merged with the city’s Second Church, in the process turning that location into the new First Church of Christ Scientist (yes, it’s confusing). After several failed attempts to convert the building into high-end condos, the developer unloaded the property to CMOM in 2018. Now FXCollaborative’s plans for 361 Central Park West have been unveiled. At an LPC meeting this Tuesday, March 3, the museum presented their reworked vision for the building. That includes removing the former church’s stained glass windows and replacing them with clear, bird-safe glass, excavating below the building for a new cellar and sub-cellar area, inserting a new workshop and performance space at the top of the building, improving handicap accessibility, and a suite of quality-of-life improvements. One of the design team’s guiding principles was to better connect the museum to Central Park across the street, which the new windows and lowered entrances should help with. The full proposal can be found on the LPC’s website. Of note is that much of the exterior will be seemingly unchanged apart from the new rooftop area, including a refusal to route lighting through any of the existing exterior stone. However, the rooftop addition and removal of the building’s historic stained glass is causing the most consternation among preservationists. The Society for the Architecture of the City, former congregation members, and nearby residents expressed concern over the changes, as the addition would be visible from the street and the original windows were part of the building's original designation. If the project moves ahead, the windows would be sent to St. Louis’s National Building Arts Center for conservation. A number of big names also tendered support for the conversion, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who spoke in person, and Deborah Berke, who submitted a letter of support. Ultimately the commission was mixed on the changes and raised the same concerns mentioned previously. The project was sent back for revisions and will be brought before the LPC again sometime in the near future. If everything goes smoothly, the museum’s new home is anticipated to open in 2023.
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Herzog & de Meuron reveal Switzerland’s first roadside chapel

Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron has unveiled its design for Autobahnkirche, an appropriately austere roadside chapel to be built near the small village of Andeer, alongside the A13 motorway in the firm’s home country. A major north-south route, the A13 transverses the eastern section of the Swiss Alps through the sprawling, trilingual canton of Graubünden. Along with wayside shrines, ecumenical chapels situated along long and lonely stretches of highway are fairly common across Europe, particularly in Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany, where there are nearly 50 so-called “road churches” or Autobahnkirchen. Herzog & de Meuron’s 3,000-square-foot Autobahnkirche will be the first of its kind in Switzerland. While this is somewhat surprising considering both the country’s monastic associations and its white-knuckle alpine highways, the Swiss populace is increasingly non-religious. The Autobahnkirche aims to be both a singular pit stop for motorists traveling along the A13 as well as introspection-seeking local residents regardless of their religious beliefs (or non-beliefs). Painted in the customary solid white, Herzog & de Meuron’s angular, box-shaped structure will be highly visible from the motorway as a distinctive beacon. Of the project, Herzog & de Meuron wrote:
"The idea for the chapel in Andeer had to emerge from the site alone, from the location, from the road. And we did not want to work with explicit religious signs or symbols, even less with Christian symbols such as a cross or representations of Christ. We were looking for architecture that would sharpen the perception of visitors — of the location, the natural environs, and even of the way they see themselves."
The Autobahnkirche will be comprised of four individual spaces, all of them functioning as distinct sanctuaries. One doubles as a sheltered overlook of sorts where visitors can take in sweeping views of the pastoral countryside through a massive ovoid window. The structure’s main entrance is through an airy aboveground sanctuary enclosed by walls that “just lean against each other; they lean and support at the same time,” as the architects put it in a press statement. “One of them stands upright. Almost like the wall of a choir. A simple gesture that emerged almost in play.” After descending down a staircase from the aboveground space, visitors will enter into the hushed subterranean heart of the chapel, a tunnel-like sequence of three cavernous chambers that will each serve an individual purpose while flowing seamlessly into each other. The first room will be a circular refuge for “readers” in which natural light pours in from above. Moving deeper into the underground area, visitors will find a more somber room with a reflecting wall that’s illuminated only by candle and a single skylight. “This is the most personal place for visitors; here they are confronted with themselves,” explained Herzog & de Meuron. Beyond this space is the magnificent viewing room, where the dramatic alpine beauty that envelopes the Autobahnkirche is on full display. “The deeper you go, the weaker the sounds from the motorway and the stronger the sound of your own footsteps,” writes Herzog and de Meuron. “Finally, when you reach the last room, strong daylight streams into the heart of the chapel and you see a panoramic view of the landscape, the village, and the lush green meadows and woods. Perception of the vegetation is heightened by the complementary red of a room-height pane of tinted glass. The sun, setting in the evening, shines through the red glass into this last portion of the chapel, which leads directly to the landscape outside.”     Autobahnkirche is the first building with spiritual affiliations designed by Herzog & de Meuron, although the Basel-headquartered firm did participate in a 1989 design competition for Zurich’s Greek Orthodox Church. No timeline has been made public for the chapel’s construction, or the project’s estimated cost.
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Wooden interiors and copper cladding create intimate worship space outside Salt Lake City

West Jordan, a suburb of Salt Lake City, is the home of Saint Joseph the Worker parish, a Catholic community that commissioned Salt Lake City– and Los Angeles–based architecture firm Sparano + Mooney to design an intimate chapel to accompany the church that the same designers finished in 2012. The materials of the new building, which opened in the summer of 2019, express the historic trades practiced by the local immigrant community that founded the church, as in the copper cladding, a nod to the nearby Kennecott copper mine. The design is meant to sit lightly on its natural environs—the thermally isolated chapel is passively heated and cooled—while daylight filtered through a rectilinear opening in the roof reestablishes a connection to the world outside.

The 470-square-foot Chapel of the Mines uses Douglas Fir timber cladding to add further warmth to the interior, in a nod to the adjoining church. Hanging globe lights and similarly-styled pews also extend the connection between the two structures, despite the difference in their forms and facades.

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Harlem church wants to rezone above Central Park for tower and cultural center

Harlem’s La Hermosa Christian Church is proposing a major building move to save its congregation. Earlier this summer, it submitted an application to the New York City Planning Commission asking to rezone part of Central Park North to make way for a 410-foot-tall residential tower and community center run by the church. This week it unveiled further plans to integrate a fin-covered music school and cultural center into the structure, all designed by FXCollaborative Located at 5 West 110th Street, the existing three-story building that houses the La Hermosa Christian community is in poor condition and the congregation, which has been in the area since 1960, hopes that building vertically on the church-owned land will allow the institution to secure its future permanence in the neighborhood. As the oldest Latino church on the East Coast, many residents see it as a mainstay resource in Central Harlem. FXCollaborative has designed a striated, 160-unit tower rising 33 stories above the corner of Central Park North that would be built on the church's current site. It would include 50 units of affordable housing and 38,000 square feet of mixed-use space. According to 6sqft, La Hermosa aims to use the money it earns from the building’s tenants to fund its new sanctuary space, a music school, and an art school. The Manhattan School of Music has already offered to partner with the church and host free classes for local children at the site.  The low-lying community center, as envisioned by FXCollaborative, features a curved facade (similar in concept to the studio's Circa Central Park) made of crystal-like glass and a narrow, horizontal cutout spanning from one corner of the building to the opposite edge. If built, it would stand in stark contrast to La Hermosa’s current church building, a red- and creme-colored cement block structure that's slated to be demolished. Though the designs have already been released, no developer has signed on for the project yet and the City Planning Commission says it won’t vote yes on a rezoning decision until that happens. Until then, the La Hermosa community must keep waiting, but the future looks fairly bright given its ample support in the neighborhood and the fact that the church is already neighbored by other high-rise buildings. Not only that, but since Central Park South and a few streets below have been building higher and higher for the past few years, the proposed project may face less criticism than similar projects, given that it's much smaller than any of the supertall skyscrapers ringing Central Park's borders.
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Audible opens its next chapter in a New Jersey church

Audible’s “Innovation Cathedral” opened its doors on May 17, bringing 80,000 square feet of high-tech office space for 400 employees to Newark, New Jersey. The name is much more than a metaphor. The Newark–based audiobook company converted a cathedral at 15 James Street— formerly the home of the Second Presbyterian Church—and two adjacent church buildings into its technology offices. Perkins Eastman restored the landmarked exterior and the global firm Spector Group handled the interior transformation. The finished design actually unites three buildings into one. A Gothic church—erected in 1932—was connected in the back to the 108-year-old Hunter Hall, a squat former parish house, which is joined to a large brick community center that sits at the very end. As the middle building in the site, Hunter Hall was designated as the main entrance and central circulation point to reach the cathedral and community center. The church-to-office conversion involved dropping an entirely new structure within the shell of the landmarked cathedral. Thus the new office structure doesn’t touch the walls of the church. Instead, Spector Group used a series of freestanding, elevated platforms to build out space and create new vantage points. “We created catwalks and perches around the sanctuary with glass dividers so you’re able to look down from the top library floor all the way to the lower main level,” said Marc Spector, principal and owner of Spector Group. As such, the conversion preserved many of the features of the original church and adjoining buildings. The auditorium, basketball court, and bowling alley in the community center were restored, as well as the pipe organ and organ screen in the main sanctuary space. All of the original cathedral’s paneling, pews, and groin vaults were kept intact. Its stained-glass windows were minimally modified to remove overtly religious references and create a more inclusive workspace. Game areas, lounges, an exhibition area, production rooms, and a commissary floor were added. Flexibility and deference to the cathedral were the driving motivators for Spector Group’s design. The employees in the Innovation Cathedral are all technologists, with different teams assigned to specific floors. However, there are no set desks and workers can sit wherever they’d like on their floor. “We added floor space in Hunter Hall, capped by this beautiful Tiffany glass ceiling that we rear-lit to really give it presence,” said Spector. “It’s an incredible edifice, and after three and a half years of working through existing conditions, we were [still] finding treasures of structure each time we did a little bit more demolition. We had to be flexible in the design.”

Architect of Record: Perkins Eastman Architects

Interior Architect: Spector Group

Associate Architect: Bill Mikesell Associates

Structural Engineer: Silman

Contractor: Century 21

Mechanical Engineering: Goldman Copeland Associates, PC

Exterior and Interior Lighting Designer: Bliss Fasman Inc.

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Why are architects focusing on Notre Dame and not St. Landry Parish?

One month ago, all of Paris and people around the world watched as flames rose high into the air above France's beloved Notre Dame Cathedral. The sight was tragic and left many asking how, why, and what next. The response was immediate and immense. Less than 48 hours after the Notre Dame fire, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced an international design competition to reimagine the iconic arrow-like spire atop the cathedral. In one week, over $1 billion was pledged to restore the cultural icon, with a promise by the president of France himself to rebuild the global landmark in under five years. Within days of that statement, design firms responded eagerly for their chance to impart their ideas on this historic building. For designers, this competition could be viewed as the chance of a lifetime, the opportunity to make a mark on an icon of culture and history. But Notre Dame was far from the only house of worship to suffer catastrophic damage this year. Three historically black churches in Louisiana burned in a series of alleged hate crimes, three churches in Sri Lanka were bombed on Easter Sunday, and a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, was riddled with bullet holes, all just in the past few months. All of these events are tragic too. Why is the design world addressing only one? When the three churches of St. Landry Parish in southern Louisiana burned to the ground in the two weeks between March 26 and April 4, these fires quickly made the national news and became a springboard for conversations around race relations in our country. On a national scale, these discussions were, quite necessarily, about the hateful acts themselves, but failed to address what to do in their aftermath. It wasn’t until the massive financial response to the Notre Dame fire took off that a larger spotlight illuminated the plight of these churches as spaces and places in need of financial support as well. People around the world began donating funds to the Seventh District Baptist Church’s GoFundMe page, which before the Notre Dame fire had only raised $50,000. In the two days following April 15, the day of the Notre Dame fire, the campaign brought in nearly $1 million. This display of generosity was not in multi-million dollar donations but in amounts ranging mostly from $5 to $20. One month later, the church has nearly $2.2 million to rebuild. Despite the money now available, there has been no political charge and few design ideas put forward for the rebuilding of the three Louisiana churches. Does St. Landry Parish not warrant as bold a vision for its rebuilding efforts as Notre Dame? One might say the Louisiana buildings were not on the same playing field as Notre Dame. And it’s true that they didn’t have the same grandeur of scale or the global affinity, but they had people who depended on them all the same. We need to stop idolizing the building as an icon, and instead, honor the people of a place. This is also an opportunity to start bridging the expansive gap of access and inclusion that exists in today’s design community—the glaring lack of diversity within the makeup of our industry and its projects. It is a chance to refocus the lens of design beyond massive, global, and wealthy institutions to include those that capture the essence of all people and all experiences. Design is a tool to bring people together and help foster conversations that can lead to healing. For communities in Louisiana, Christchurch, and Sri Lanka, communities that have had some of their most sacred places ravaged by the violence of hate, a new place can help people mourn what and whom they’ve lost, celebrate those lives, and then, in time, focus on their shared beliefs and common goals. A new place can help people to rise above the negativity of a few and honor the positivity of the whole. We should always remember that design is for everyone, not just those where “funding is not an issue.” So let’s open our ears, our minds, and our hearts to the communities who need their voices heard and let’s expand on the definition of design so that it is no longer rooted in the things that we build but instead is measured by the experiences we shape and the memories we create. Meredith McCarthy, AIA, is a senior associate with Sasaki. She is passionate about advancing equity and inclusion within the industry and through her design work with communities around the world.  
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Nike's Just Do It HQ sports a glorious renovation inside a Chicago church

It’s no secret that Nike has an eye for design. From advertising to athletic wear to sports equipment and more, the company’s signature style has mass appeal and is easy to spot, but it's easy to forget the company's knack for creating serious interior design. Nike’s new New York headquarters, completed last year by its Workplace Design + Connectivity team in collaboration with Studios Architecture, got global attention for its slick look, but the brand’s newly built-out basketball space in Chicago is just as impressive. The Just Do It HQ, a basketball facility set inside a church dating to 1885, is quite glorious. Nike transformed the Church of Epiphany in Chicago’s West Loop into a state-of-the-art cultural hub and a home for a youth summer training program. Throughout August, Nike will host camps for young athletes and offer interactive youth workshops, pro athlete appearances, and skills clinics. The space itself is a modern and bold design outfitted with a basketball court, sports gym, and locker room. Nike added a color scheme of blue, orange, and white that runs throughout the three programs and created stained glass windows with basketballs carved into the center. Arched, metal frames were also placed in front of windows in certain places, diffusing the light and further connecting the gritty theme found throughout the aged church. The stained glass basketball design is also painted at the center of the court. Other contextual elements kept throughout the facility include the open, vaulted ceilings as well as the arched doorways and shelves. Nike’s Just Do it HQ is open Monday through Saturday throughout the end of this month. Kids can sign up to participate in the camps by registering online.
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In upstate New York, a DMT-inspired psychedelic temple rises

Tucked away on a tree-studded, 40-acre plot just a quarter mile from the Hudson River, one of New York’s most unusual construction projects is underway. The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM)—a transdenominational church and registered nonprofit—has been constructing the Entheon: “A place to discover god within.” The three-story windowless art space will be a temple to, among other things, original “visionary art” from the church’s husband-and-wife co-founders, Alex and Allyson Grey. The couple, who have been together since first meeting (and dropping acid) in 1975, previously ran an art space in Manhattan. After closing down their Chelsea outpost in 2009, Alex and Allyson moved upstate, where they have been running their collective and a psychedelic variant of a bed-and-breakfast. Their Wappingers Falls location hosts monthly full-moon festivities, as well as large concerts and events. Placing art at the very center of their faith, the estate already features large-scale architectural artworks, such as the three-story gazebo-temple Altered States made by artist Kate Raudenbush, who describes herself as “New York-based, Burning Man–bred.” Alex Grey is perhaps best known for his hyper-detailed paintings of human bodies set on trippy backgrounds that reveal the figures’ underlying circulatory systems, musculature, and spiritual meridian points through translucent skin. Grey's audience has not been limited to a cult following of the chemically inclined; he exhibited at the New Museum in 1986. For members of CoSM, visionary art is at the center of their cosmology—like pre-iconoclastic medieval clerics, they understand art not just as a gateway to the divine, but as the manifestation of the divine itself. It’s only natural that this artist-pastor couple would need to build a sanctuary for creativity. Selecting a point on their 40-acre plot that aligns with the solar plexus of a projected goddess, “the kabbalistic sephirot of justice,” CoSM has begun converting a former carriage house into a three-level, 12,000-square-foot concrete structure replete with modern amenities, including an ADA-compliant elevator. As with the foundation of the Greys’ relationship and their church, psychedelics and entactogens play a central role in the eccentric design of the Entheon. It was, in fact, a (then legal) shared MDMA experience that showed the Greys they should not sell their work, but rather build a chapel to share it with a “worldwide love tribe.” Though currently a bare concrete structure, there are big plans for the Entheon. Highly detailed renderings by Ryan Tottle (an Academy Award-winning animator who has worked on major films such as Disney’s Frozen) promise an architecturally complex and spiritually rich exterior. The proposed building is a veritable mythological bestiary. Four-faced ancient-Egypt-inspired “Soulbirds” guard one door. Another door features a design that returns Adam and Eve to the Garden of Eden. Winged “Angels of the Creative Imagination” punctuate the facade, interspersed between the larger “Godheads” that comprise the bulk of the outer walls. These Godheads “bear symbols of different world-wisdom traditions above each Cosmic Eye.” “DNA dragons” rise up from the corners of the roof to its center—liquid and vibrating creatures whose sides are a continuous double helix, a form that, according to a likely false urban legend, was discovered by British molecular biologist Francis Crick under the influence of LSD. Allyson’s “secret writing,” a script using a 20-letter unpronounceable alphabet, will run the upper edge of the Entheon and be guarded by sculpted “Angels of the Four Directions.” And these are just some of the building’s creatures and spiritual guardians. The roof—trypophobes beware—is a concentric array of eyes; called “Collective Vision,” the imagery inspired by a DMT experience of Alex’s that Allyson had the insight to suggest as a roof pattern, a “canopy of consciousness.” As a free e-book on the Entheon points out, “Collective Vision” is a visual motif that has appeared in the graphics and on the stage sets of “America’s number one cult band, Tool.” The collective hopes to use cast concrete, 3-D printing, and other technologies to realize this energetic facade. The three-level interior of the Entheon is intended to be equally elaborate. Through the ornate gold doors there will be, among other spaces, a Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, with its Gothic-style arches; the All One gallery; a museum shop; and a reliquary room featuring the spectacles of the first person to both synthesize and take LSD, Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman, and the ashes of the legendary Harvard professor and psychedelic evangelist Timothy Leary. Leary’s famous Millbrook mansion, the site of so much psychonautic exploration, is just over 20 miles away from CoSM’s own estate. Fundraising for the Entheon continues. The first cycle of fundraising began in 2013 (plans to build began around 2012). According to its website, the church has raised $2.3 million so far. For devotees, the Entheon is the logical next step in their faith of art and love. As Alex told Mushroom Magazine in July 2015, “We believe the inevitable consequence of love is the building of temples.”
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Landmarks approves changes to Manhattan's Trinity Church

Today the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved a major revamp of Trinity Church, the storied Manhattan house of worship where Alexander Hamilton is buried.

The parish tapped Murphy Burnham & Buttrick (MBB) to lead the renovations. In addition to interior repairs, the New York firm plans to add wheelchair-accessible ramps around the perimeter of the building and install a low canopy on the church's south side to shelter its weekly processions from the elements. Unlike many New York–area churches that struggle with declining attendance, Trinity is thriving. The Episcopal congregation attracts around 400 people on a typical Sunday, said Trinity Church Vicar Philip Jackson. The goal of the renovation is to enhance the experience of worship, address deferred maintenance, and make the church and property accessible via an ADA-compliant path around the perimeter. Parishioners, many who live in Battery Park City, Tribeca, and the Financial District, the church's home neighborhood, participate in a formal Episcopal service. Jackson explained that a hallmark of Sundays at Trinity Sunday is the long procession that winds from the outside into the main hall. To protect the priests and worshipers walking outside from inclement weather, the church asked MBB to construct a glass-and-painted-steel canopy along the lower portion of the windows on the original building's south terrace and along the Manning Wing, a 1966 addition. The area will also be re-paved in bluestone (PDF). “We designed an awning as minimal and deferential to existing architecture as possible,” said MBB Founding Partner Jeffrey Murphy.

The parish is almost as old as New York itself. Trinity was founded over 300 years ago, and the church moved into its current quarters in 1846. The original structure, at 75 Broadway, was designed by Richard Upjohn in the Gothic Revival style and landmarked in 1966. Three subsequent additions, the latest from the same year as the landmarking, honored the original design, but the interior hasn't undergone a major renovation since the mid-1940s.

Inside, MBB will replace deteriorating stained glass, and restore doors and masonry that are aging poorly. The firm, which is known for its sensitive renovations of historic structures, completed a top-to-bottom restoration of James Renwick's St. Patrick's Cathedral in 2015. Although Trinity Church is first and foremost a house of worship, it is also a major tourist destination. Visitors have always stopped by to pay respects to permanent resident Alexander Hamilton, but the founding father's gravesite has become even more popular since Lin Manuel Miranda's Broadway musical Hamilton debuted. To legitimize the cemetery's well-worn desire paths and accommodate an influx of visitors, the team is improving the graveyard's walkways in accordance with an LPC-approved landscape master plan. The architects are also working with an archeologist before breaking ground to scope the graves in the yard and the markers around the church, and any stones that need to be moved will be re-instated before the site project re-opens to the public. On the west side, MBB will expand the terrace's loggia by one bay so people can be shielded from the elements, and it will add a paved plaza, pictured above at right. The team will also remove fencing around the site, and retool the lighting scheme to highlight the church's signature brownstone buttresses. "In general it’s a really thoughtful, well-done proposal. All the details are really well-thought through and totally appropriate," said LPC Commissioner Michael Goldblum. Preservation advocacy group Historic Districts Council (HDC) mostly agreed, but thought MBB and Trinity could refine the design of the canopy and western terrace. "It is not clear from the submitted drawings why there is a programmatic need for an awning that will run the length of the entire facade of the sanctuary," said HDC's Patrick Waldo. "The canopy competes with and obscures [the buttresses] and the design appears as a modernist expression which HDC feels does not fit beside an ecclesiastical structure." The second speaker, Christabel Gough, of the preservation group Society for the Architecture of the City, agreed, and added that the paved western plaza was "fitted out exactly like a corporate plaza made to obtain a zoning bonus." After a short discussion, the LPC approved MBB and Trinity's proposal with modifications. The team will have to work with staff to rethink the design of the canopy, paving, and landscape.
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A rare Art Moderne church in Chicago is slated for renovation

Faced with a declining congregation, Chicago’s First Church of Deliverance had fallen into a cycle of deferred maintenance. Luckily, on January 11, the Chicago Department of Planning and Development announced a $228,000 grant from the Adopt-a-Landmark fund to renovate the historic structure. In exchange for zoning bonuses, Chicago-based developers provide funding for the Adopt-a-Landmark program. Located in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, the First Church of Deliverance was designed by Walter T. Bailey in 1939, and has been a Chicago landmark since 1994. Bailey, Illinois’ first licensed African-American architect, redesigned the church in the Streamline Moderne style with sweeping curves, smooth finishes, strict horizontality, and the use of glass-block windows. It is one of the few, if not only, church structures in Chicago designed in this style. According to Southside Weekly, the core of the church came into being in 1929 with the conversion of a defunct hat-lining factory into a house of worship, with Bailey’s work formalizing the building’s use. The twin towers found on the primary elevation were added in 1946, and were colloquially referred to by the congregation as the “Old Testament” and “New Testament.” The renovation will restore Bailey’s terracotta façade, doors, and the church’s interior murals. Chicago-based artist Fred Jones designed the surviving murals located on the church interior. Jones studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, and his work is described by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks as containing a “slightly abstract, neo-romantic vision,” one seeped in the subject matter of the “urban African-American community.” For the last 80 years, the First Church of Deliverance has broadcasted its gospel music, establishing itself as a regional nexus and laboratory for the genre. According to Curbed, the national exposure of the church’s radio program led to the involvement of prestigious African-American musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington and Sallie Martin. The church’s long-standing role in gospel music has certainly benefited from it being one of the first houses of worship in the country to install a Hammond electric organ. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Frederick J. Nelson Jr., as organist and music director of the First Church of Deliverance, taught organ to hundreds students from the church and surrounding community. Although Southside Weekly reports that the First Church of Deliverance’s congregation is unlikely to grow, the future renovation will cement the building’s place in Chicago’s architectural and social history and insure the aesthetic integrity of the city landmark.
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BNIM updates and rebuilds a historic Kansas City church ravaged by fire

Not much was left after a devastating fire ravaged the Westport Presbyterian Church, in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2011. Originally built in 1905, the church saw its roof structure, interior structure, and all interior finishes destroyed. All that remained undamaged was the exterior limestone wall. This is where Kansas City–based BNIM began on what was to become a complete transformation of the neighborhood icon. Westport Presbyterian Church is located in one of Kansas City’s oldest historic neighborhoods, surrounded by streets lined with vibrantly painted bungalows and cottages. The lively neighborhood was originally the westernmost trading outpost in the region, serving pioneers venturing on the California, Santa Fe, and Oregon Trails, which all converged in Kansas City. By the time the church was built, the area had recently been annexed into the city, which was itself booming thanks to the railroad. The congregation dates to 1835, and the building has been in the same location since just after the Civil War. Yet even before the fire, the church was working to change its relationship with the surrounding community. “They had already started a process of rethinking what their church would be in the changing culture of Westport,” Erik Heitman, project architect at BNIM, said. “They wanted to re-envision what they were, and how they could serve the community. They not only had to re-envision what their congregation was, but what was the building that serves that mission. They never thought they would rebuild it as it was. This was a chance to reinvent themselves.” Rather than attempt to return the church to its original design, BNIM worked with the church staff to rethink how the community could use the building. A 1916 addition damaged beyond repair would be replaced by a new structure that included a bright public-facing storefront. A welcoming entrance directly on the street, and its interior space, are now available to local groups. The new construction would also provide space for creating and displaying art by one of the church’s own outreach organizations. Thinking about the outward connection to the community, the exterior space was redesigned to provide places to gather adjacent to corresponding interiors. While adding new functional spaces to the church updated the building’s use and presence in the neighborhood, it would be the restoration of the sacred spaces that would present the greatest challenges. It took firefighters over 13 hours to extinguish the fire, leaving the building either burned beyond recognition or destroyed by water. The original sanctuary, chapel, second floor, and basement would all have to be completely rebuilt. Yet, elements of the building were salvaged. Heitman described it as “a new sanctuary delicately placed into the original stone walls.” After a careful restoration, the stained-glass windows were reinstalled in the nave, this time at the parishioner’s eye level. Unable to be used structurally, 40,000 linear feet of the original wood framing was captured for interior finishes as well. Ironically, one of the new design elements of the sanctuary found its genesis in the temporary space the congregation used after the fire. While only limited natural light was allowed into the original sanctuary through stained glass, the temporary rental space was washed with natural light through clear vision glass. Wanting to include and improve this effect, a ribbon clerestory was added, encircling the entire sanctuary. Effectively filling the space with dramatic natural light, the clerestory also hints at the relationship between the new walls and the now-visible original stonewalls. While the destruction of a historic building is never a good thing, the long-standing congregation found a way to use it to their advantage. With a vision of what its congregation could be, and help from BNIM, the Westport Presbyterian Church was able to realize a more open and inviting presence in one of Kansas City’s most dynamic neighborhoods.
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The iconic Saint Boniface Church on Chicago’s Near North Side narrowly avoids the wrecking ball

One hundred and fourteen years to the month after the cornerstone of Saint Boniface Church was laid, the building was saved from the wrecking ball. After lying vacant since 1990, the City of Chicago set a deadline of September 23 for the building to be sold, or it would be ordered demolished. That same day, local developer STAS Development closed on the property with plans to convert the iconic North Side church into residences and a music school.

The Saint Boniface parish has been a staple of the Near North Side in Chicago since 1860. First German and then Polish, the story of the parish and the church it called home is one that is common in Chicago. As one of the first schools in the area, the church was the center of an immigrant community. The four-towered Romanesque design by architect Henry J. Schlacks sits 900 and has a 52-foot-high ceiling.

Now, a collaboration between STAS Development and the Hyde Park–based Chicago Academy of Music will transform the original structure: The 32,000-square-foot church will be converted into 15 residential units, with a music school and 24 more units planned for new construction on the site. While this will completely change the nature of the historic structure, it is still considered a big win by preservationists.

As development continues at breakneck speed on the Near North Side, churches have become popular structures for conversion into housing throughout its neighborhoods. Saint Boniface’s neighborhood of Nobel Square, as well as nearby Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, Bucktown, and Logan Square, were once filled with German Catholics and Eastern European Catholics building churches literally every few blocks. Only a very small number of these churches remain as active worship spaces. Those lucky enough to be spared the wrecking ball attract developers with their high ceilings, stained-glass windows, and distinctive character. As they are often larger than the typical stacked-flat housing stock in the neighborhoods, they can be used for denser development.

Saint Boniface is an outlier among these converted churches, though. Unlike so many of the others, it is not deeply embedded in the tight streets of its surrounding neighborhood. Instead, it stands out on a major street with its four large bell towers, one of which is 150 feet tall. The church is an icon in its neighborhood, and more recently an icon for the whole city. After the Chicago Cubs’ recent World Series win, Saint Boniface was used as the backdrop for a Nike commercial in which a young Cubs fan plays out his own World Series win in the adjacent park.

Although neighborhoods in Chicago quickly change in demographics and density, Saint Boniface will not be the last of the old churches to be “saved” by development, though it is likely to be one of the largest. While complete plans have not yet been released, one can’t help but wonder if someone will have a condo with an ornately vaulted ceiling or a rose window.